by Neelima Agrawal
“AND, Como! thou, a treasure whom the earth
Keeps to herself, confined as in a depth
Of Abyssinian privacy.” – “The Prelude” by William Wordsworth (1770–1850)
“One could live and die here. The outlook seems designed as a balm to the eyes. … the horizon is lined with snow and the foreground alternates between the graceful and the rugged – a truly Shakespearean landscape, all the forces of nature are brought together, with an overwhelming sense of vastness.”
– Travel diary of Gustav Flaubert who visited Bellagio in 1845.
Of the many beautiful cities and towns in Italy, Como in the Lombardy region of northern Italy is perhaps the most popular. Its irresistible charm and natural beauty has been attracting the rich and mighty for hundreds of years, who have built ornate villas on the banks of Lake Como. And, the most exquisite pearl in Como is the little township of Bellagio. It sits with its back to the Alps, located strategically at the cape of the land mass that divides Lake Como into two arms of the inverted Y. The town center occupies the tip of the promontory, looking across the lake. Bellagio is a traveler’s paradise, easily covered on foot.
Inhabited since before 400 BC, the history of Bellagio and the region has seen the transit / occupation by Gauls, Romans, Greeks, Goths, Frankish Kings, Spanish rule, and many more. The footprints are well preserved or resurrected without losing the aesthetic.
I spent the days walking around the narrow alleyways hemmed in by stone clad walls covered in ivy, up and down medieval stone stairs. It was the best way to soak in the beauty and revel in the experience. The narrow streets are lined with shops and eateries. Quaint shop selling porcelain wares, china dolls, antiques, lace doilies, and other knickknacks are an absolute delight.
It took all of a fifteen minutes slow amble along the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi to reach the tip of the village Punta Sparitvento. The is the main road and is lined by several shop selling hats, leather goods, wine and cheese, a lot of scope to shop.
Despite the street being narrow, the cars do go by, albeit very slowly and people politely step over to a side. Parking is dear and the cost is hefty.
The beautiful Romanesque Basilica of San Giacomo is located in the town center at the Piazza della Chiesa. Built between 1075 and 1125 by the Masters of Como, it has inside mosaics of the early ‘900 and a beautiful altar. Not to be missed.
Down the steps from the town hall is the old fishing village Pescallo, where one must go if interested in water skiing and kayaking. Stepping away from the touristy Town Center, a short walk down the Via Eugenio Vitali leads to Punta Spartivento, which is located at the strategic point of the Y shaped lake Como. This is the point where most boats are moored.
A three minute walk from the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi will take one to the lakeside street Via Lungo Lario Manzoni. The area is choc-a- block with many hotels, that look over the blue waters of the lake. Located here is the world famous Villa Serbelloni, built in the 15th century and currently owned by the Rockefeller Foundation,which uses it as a study centre and conference centre. Only guests of the villa can visit the interior. Visitors can book a visit to the 50 acres of park and gardens around the villa, from April to October. Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni was opened in 1873, and was frequented by the royalty of yore.Its walls and ceilings are bedecked with frescoes and paintings of mythological scenes, gilded frames and Pompeian reds, antique Persian carpets, the crystal chandeliers from Murano, the Imperial furniture, and the neo-classical and Art Nouveau style; not to mention the marble staircases, the stucco work columns, and the splendid trompe l’oeil.
A must-visit in the area is the beautiful gardens of Villa Melzi, situated on the banks of the lake. Villa Melzi dates back to 1808-1810 and was commissioned by Francesco Melzid’Eril, duke of Lodi. Its beautiful gardens designed by Luigi Canonica and Luigi Villoresi, draw huge crowds of tourists to-date. During the Belle Epoque it became a renowned international holiday resort. The Villa is rich in archaeological finds, is packed with sculptures, and also has an Arabic temple. The guided tour of the gardens is from April to October, from 9.00 am to 6.00 p.m. for a cost of € 6.50
How to get there –
I travelled to Bellagio by boat from Blevio, where my hotel Casta Diva was located, a beautiful hour long journey up the lake.The data below is gathered from research and tips from other travellers.
Air – The airports nearest to Bellagio are:
-Malpensa International Airport (MXP), Milan
-Linate Airport (LIN), Milan
-Orio al Serio International Airport (BGY), Bergamo
-Lugano airport. Bus to Menaggio, ferry to Bellagio T
Chartered seaplanes also land on the lake itself.
Train – The railway lines nearest to Bellagio are:
-Milan–Como (two lines, operated respectively by Trenitalia and LeNord)
-Milan–Varenna (operated by Trenitalia)
-Milan–Lecco (operated by Trenitalia)
-Milan–Asso (operated by LeNord)
From Milan, the “Malpensa Express” train leaves from Malpensa Terminal 1 (below the Ground Floor / Arrivals area) to Milano Cadorna. Purchase your ticket to Como Lago. Hereafter it is a three step process.
Frequency: approximately every 30 minutes , Journey time from Malpensa to Saronno: 17 minutes. From Malpensa to Milano Cadorna: 29 minutes .
Cost of ticket: € 13.00 through Milan and € 8.00 through Saronno from airport to Como
Step 2 -Change trains at Saronno or Milano Cadorna. Frequency: Connecting trains to Como every hour.
Journey time from Saronno to Como: 39 minutes;
Journey time from Milano Cadorna to Como: 50 minutes
Cost of ticket: Saronno/Como € 2.90/4.00, Milano Cadorna/Como € 4.80
Step 3 – Como / Bellagio. There are different travel options to get to Bellagio from Como Lago Nord railway station: Public buses run daily from Como to Bellagio.
a) Buses depart just outside the train station. Use the exit toward the lakeside and you find the bus stop at your left. Tickets from the bus station ticket office. Frequency: approximately every two hours. Journey time to Bellagio: 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cost of ticket: € 3,70
Bus stop in Bellagio is on the lake, the closer to the centre is near the car ferry landing stage.
b) Boat or Hydrofoil: (hydrofoil is the quickest means of lake transport). It is a 5 minute walk to the lakefront and boat ticket office.Tickets to be purchased prior to boarding. Hydrofoil->Frequency: Every two hours – they are more frequent at lunchtime and early evening. Journey time: 45/50 minutes – Cost of ticket: € 14,80 per person
Boat->Frequency: Infrequent service – Journey time: 2 hours- Cost of ticket: € 10,40 per person
c) Taxi: You can book a taxi from Bellagio which will meet you at the arrival platform in the station. See above for details about companies for private car transfer.
Road –Bellagio is accessible on either side of the Larian Triangle by slow, narrow and winding roads from Como or Lecco. It is much safer to drive from Como up to Cadenabbia and use the reasonably priced car ferry for the quick trip across to Bellagio. An alternative is to take the four-lane road on the eastern shore of the right arm of the lake to Varenna, then take the ferry to Bellagio. Narrow stone stairs make most of the Borgo inaccessible to cars.
Water – The easiest way to access Bellagio is via ferry. There is no direct train to Bellagio, but the closest stop is Varenna. A hydrofoil runs from Como to Bellagio, making stops at the other towns on Lake Como along the way. Car ferries also runs from Varenna and Cadenabbia to Bellagio. These are much shorter trips of less than 15 minutes. For more information, visit Gestione Governativa Navigazione Laghi.